Academic journal article Multinational Business Review

Minority-Owned Business Enterprises' Participation in International Trade

Academic journal article Multinational Business Review

Minority-Owned Business Enterprises' Participation in International Trade

Article excerpt

This study is an attempt to explain empirically how much minority-owned enterprises with given firmspecific and owner-specific characteristics export. Based on the 1987 Bureau of the Census survey of minority-owned enterprises data, we have reached conclusions on the differences in the volume of exports of firms with given threshold characteristics, relative to enterprises which posses more or less of those characteristics. These characteristics are firm size, start-up capital, and the number of years in business. Selected owner characteristics considered are education, age, and prior work and management experience. These characteristics were selected to allow us to examine the effect of firm size and management characteristics, which have been the focus of literature investigations.


In spite of the obvious potential contributions of exports to the national economy and individual corporations, many business enterprises do not endeavor to take advantage of the potential gains. The literature claims that one reason for this is the lack of national and corporate policy to stimulate export incentives. The other is the attitude of corporate managers who continue to regard exporting as a marginal business, Cavusgil et al (1981). The literature maintains that unless top management is ready to stress the importance of growth and commit corporate resources into market planning, the company cannot reap the full potentials of exporting. This is partly one of the reasons why the United States exports only about 5.8% of its GDP compared to Germany with about 26%, Canada with about 25% and Japan with about 10.5%, Knowlton (1988). Tremendous opportunities exist for the United States to export a lot more because the US has the largest single market and the US GDP is about four times as large as the rest of the world, Knowlton (1988). The US Department of Commerce estimates that about 25,000 jobs are created for each $1 billion of export, therefore a policy of job creation can be considered to be synonymous with a policy of export expansion. The 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Uruguay Round of trade agreement, otherwise known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were therefore intended to increase the amount and strengthen the performance of export activity of the US firms.

What is the best strategy to increase US exports? It is estimated that small-and-medium sized businesses exhibit the fastest growth rates and generate more new jobs than large firms. It is also estimated that only ten percent of US exports are generated by small businesses, while 250 large multinational corporations account for approximately 85% of US exports. A substantial improvement in the US export performance will therefore require the participation of and involvement of a considerably large number of small-and-medium sized firms. Small-andmedium sized businesses produce a wide variety of goods and services, often of exceptionally high quality and possess the greatest degree of flexibility which allow them to profitably penetrate small markets using strategies that are difficult for large companies to implement, Dobrzynski (1985), Reagan (1984). Moreover small-and-medium sized firms are able to adapt quickly to fluctuating markets and play a major role in the global market. What role should minority-owned enterprises, generally known to be small, be expected to play in the national policy to increase US exports? Although so much is known about small-and-medium sized firms generally, nothing is known about what role minority-owned firms have played in American export activity. With so much unknowns about minority-owned businesses' ability to export, what policies should government adopt in order to enhance minorities' active participation in international trade?

The purpose of this study is to examine the determinants of exports by minority-owned firms. Minority-owned enterprises are those enterprises in which people of ethnic minorities, such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Women, and other ethnic groups have majority shares. The paper examines how much of the sales by firms of given characteristics are derived from exports. The characteristics include the average age of firms, average size of firms, and the amount of start-up capital invested, etc. The characteristics of owners of firms are also examined. These include whether or not the owners have prior management and prior working experience, age and education of majority shareowners. By examining these characteristics we are able to identify the enterprises that are ready and able to engage in the export activities. This knowledge will enable the government to offer whatever necessary assistance to make them successful where such assistance is needed. The data used for this study are obtained from the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Survey of Minority-owned Enterprises (1987). The database provides information on four levels of export participation: (1) those which do not export, (2) firms which export between 1-24 percent of sales, (3) firms with 25-74 percent of export, and (4) firms with 75-100 percent of export. The data base provides firm- specific information such as industry groups, the number of years the firms have been in operation, start-up capital, the percentage of borrowed capital, business asset; owner-specific information such as ethnicity, age of owner, education of the majority owner. previous work experience, and prior management experience. The paper seeks to compare exports at any given threshold firm- and owner-specific characteristics to exports at another levels of firm and owner characteristics. Threshold firm characteristics are start-up capital $5,000 and more, number of years in business 14 years of less, and export by wholesale compared to retail trade. Other threshold levels of owner characteristics considered are college education, prior work experience, managerial experience and age of owner 35-54 years old. Literature review on small-and-medium sized firm export

This section deals with some of the issues that have been considered relative to exporting. The discussions here allow us to see what grounds have been covered, and how far we still need to go. We believe our contributions could either help to extend the frontier of the issues already considered in the literature or break new grounds. If we succeed in breaking any new grounds, we will be highly indebted to those who have laid the foundation for us to build on. There is considerable information in the literature regarding the international activities of US firms, but nothing is known about international involvement of the minority-owned firms. Published studies maintain that, although small-and-medium sized firms have the capability to export, not many of these firms have been able to do so, Dichtl et al. (1984), Johnson et al. (1985). The literature maintains that these firms are very reluctant to commit themselves to exporting because of perceived barriers and obstacles to exporting, Bilkey (1978), Edmunds and Khoury (1986), Hook et al. (1989), Ali et al. (1991), and Mahone (1991). What type of firms hesitates to engage in export activities because of perceived barriers? Are they firms with unique characteristics, and if so what are these characteristics? Are they firms that have been in operation for a few years and are gradually trying to improve their product quality to meet international standards? Hester (1985) maintains that small textile and apparel firms do not only find it difficult to finance exporting, they also believe that exporting is risky and unproductive to attempt. How do owners' characteristics, such as managers' education or experience affect ability to export? Ali (1991) observed that managers in small firms tend to hold less favorable attitudes towards exporting than their counterparts in larger firms. Kaynak et al. (1987) observed that smaller Swedish firms that export less than 20% of their sales do not regard product quality as an essential element of exporting. They like to explore market opportunities in countries closest to theirs and regard such markets as legitimate extensions of their domestic market. Bilkey et al. (1984) believes that many firms would like to export on an experimental basis to some psychologically close countries.

Some of the previous studies have focused on the type of products exported, Bilkey (1978), Cavusgil (1984), Reid (1984), Dawson (1985), Johnston and Czinkota (1985), Kaynak (1988), Namiki (1988), Culpan (1989), Seifert and Ford (1989) and Mahone (1994). They found that the companies primarily export medium-to-high tech industrial, intermediate and consumer products. The literature also reports that several years of experience are needed to acquire the skills and other attributes considered necessary for exporting. It asserts that firms that have been in operation between three and six years experience an increasing inclination to export because they acquire cross-cultural skills during this learning exposure. Between seven and ten years the firms' inclination to export, however decreases, Ali et al. (1991). There is, however, a sharp disagreement in the literature on the subject of whether smaller firms are better equipped to participate in international trade than larger firms do. We do not focus on the comparison of the export performance of large and small firms in this study, but since minority-owned enterprises are mostly small or medium in size, our concern in this study is to investigate what determines the volume of export by small and medium sized minority-owned enterprises.

Methodology and hypotheses

As in many studies before, this is an empirical evaluation of the effect of firm-specific- and ownerspecific characteristics on exporting, without offering any theoretical foundations. We use standard statistical method of testing the difference between two means (average number of exporting firms having given characteristics). We assume a normal distribution of exporting firms within each firm-specific and owner-specific characteristic. The threshold levels of characteristics selected for comparison were chosen arbitrarily, but there is nothing wrong in comparing exports at other threshold levels of interest. The difference between the number of firms exporting at other levels can also be tested, using the methods proposed in this study. Since the distribution of firms by export level is skewed to the right, three separate samples are used, one sample for each export level. This method of sample treatment allows us to assume that the exporting firms are approximately normally distributed. This assumption allows us to adopt a Ztest.

Although there is an extensive literature on exporting, practically all have focused on empirical analyses and none has attempted to develop any theoretical framework. The classical theory of international trade emphasizes the theory of comparative cost advantage. An extension of the classical theory would have to focus on such issues as the average or marginal costs faced by the exporting firms (the supply side), income, exchange rate, and other factors faced by the buyers (the demand side). There is, however, a good treatment of product quality in the literature but the treatment is devoted mostly to the empirical analysis of the pattern of export activities of firms with given characteristics and owners with given characteristics, Holzmuller et al ( 1991). These include the psychology, attitudes and the experiences of managers, and the obstacles faced by the firms engaged in exporting.

One of the conclusions in earlier studies is that trading becomes common among companies that have crossed the 20 employee threshold, and more than half of all exporters have fewer than 100 employees, Birch (1988). We use start-up capital as a measure of firm size in this study. Small firms have less export experience, different exporting practices, attitudes and problems, and rely more heavily on the initiative of the foreign buyer for their export sales than large firms do O'Rourke (1985). Many of the firms involved in exporting tend to export to the European markets, partly because of the physical proximity of those markets and partly because those countries are psychologically close to the United States, Mahone et al (1995). Others hold the view that smaller firms tend to be more innovative, fastmoving and accustomed to produce in limited volumes uniquely suited to marketing in the developing countries, projected to be the hottest growth areas in the 20' century, Becker et al. (I983).

According to the conventional theory, international trade is based on the comparative cost advantage. If firms in the exporting country have lower average costs than firms in the importing country, or if the currency of the exporting country is weaker than that of the importing country, then export takes place. How does firm size affect unit costs of products? Of course large firms are more likely to have lower cost advantage over small firms because of the economies of scale. But do large firms necessarily produce cheaper products no matter what technology or management efficiency of the firms? We know that many Americans prefer Japanese automobiles to American-made automobiles because they believe that Japanese automobiles are of better quality. Large firms do not necessarily produce better quality products. The literature does not directly associate average cost or the quality of products with firm size. Ali and Swiercz (1991) found that although firm size does not exert significant influence on the attitude towards international business, it does influence the managerial views on the attributes considered necessary for export success. Bilkey et al. (1977) observed that there is a positive relationship between firm size and the volume of export, meaning that large firms tend to export more than small firms. Reid (1984) also found that firm size affects entry into new foreign markets. None of these conclusions has any direct reference to the connection between the level of exporting and the cost advantage enjoyed by large and medium sized firms. One could, however assume that the large amount of financial and technological resources owned by large and medium-sized firms allow them to research and finance expensive international marketing strategies. Minority-owned firms have none of these.

This study is devoted to testing some new hypotheses on the effect of firm-specific and ownerspecific characteristics on minority-owned enterprises: (I) Minority-owned firms in the wholesales and retail trades are more likely to export than firms in other industries. (2) Minority-owned firms with start-up capital of $5,000 or more are more likely to export than their counterparts with less start-up capital. (3) Minority-owned firms that have been in operation for 14 years or less are more likely to be involved in exporting than firms that have longer tenure in business. (4) Minority-owned firms that are owned and managed by younger persons, who are college educated, and have prior working and management experience of at least ten years are more likely to export than their counterparts with less of these attributes.

Empirical analysis

This study is based on the data obtained from the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census Survey of Minority-owned Business Enterprises (SMOBE) 1987. The database shows that 28,993 or 87.7% of 33,062 minority-owned enterprises did not export. About 16.4% of these firms were owned by people who had no high school education. Among those which exported, 1498 or 4.5% reported export between 1-24% of their annual sales, while 466 or 1.4% exported between 25-74% and 537 or 1.6% exported between 75-100% of their annual sales.

The data also reveal that among the firms that exported, 0.6% were owned by people with elementary school education and exported between 1-24% of their total sales, 0.2% exported between 25-74%, and 0.1% exported between 75-100% of sales. Among those who had high school education, 592 or 1.79% exported between 1-24%, 200 or 0.6% exported between 24-74% and 206 or 0.6% exported between 75-100%, and among those with college or higher education, 714 or 2.16% exported between 124%, 194 or 0.6% exported between 24-74% while 283 or 0.85% exported between 75-100% of total sales. Our database shows that minority-owned enterprises export significantly less than one-forth of their annual sales. It shows that 4.5% of minorityowned enterprises export between 1-24%, while only 2.7% of those that exported between 25-100% of their gross sales in 1987 had high school or better education. This shows that only a small percentage of minority-owned enterprises managed by people with high school education or better are engaged in export activities. This ample evidence show that minority-owned enterprises do not posses the knowledge and expertise required to handle the risks involved in large volume of exports, Hester (1985), Kaynak and Kothari (1984). As far as minorityowned enterprises are concerned more than elementary school education is required to acquire knowledge and expertise needed for such tasks.

To some extent age, but not prior work or management experience plays the same role as education because enhances knowledge and understanding. This study shows that significantly more firms whose owners are 35-54 years old tend to export more at the 25-74% and 75-100% levels than those whose owners are younger or older. Burton and Schlegelmilch (1987) maintain that younger managers are more likely to engage their firms in exporting than older ones and that managers who are new to a firm may act like "change" agents. Kaynak and Kothari (1984) conclude that competence in managing the elements of the marketing mix is a major determinant of the firms' long-run performance and commitment in international marketing. While the literature is replete with evidence showing that the quality of management has an effect on exporting, nothing is said about the effect of prior work and management experience. Our data do not support the hypothesis that the minority-owned businesses managed by people with 10 or more years of prior working and management experience export more at any level than their counterparts with less of the attributes. Among the 33,062 minority-owned enterprises in the database which did no exporting, 4,895 or 14.8% had no start-up capital, 7,980 or 24.1% had between $1-4,999 start-up capital, while 16,118 or 48.74% had start-up capital of $5,000 or more. Among those which invested between $1-4,999 as start-up capital, 318 or 0.96% exported between 1-24% of total sales, 86 or 0.26% exported between 25-75%, while 127 or 0.38% exported between 75-100%. Also 1,001 or 3.02% with start-up capital in excess of $5,000 exported between 1-24%, 341 or 1.03% exported between 24-74%, and 348 or 1.05% exported between 75-100%. Although start-up capital tells us nothing about the amount of the current stock of capital used by firms for current production, we use start-up capital as a proxy variable for firm size. We assume that enterprises with start-up capital of $5,000 or more are more likely to be medium-sized than small firms, and following the generally accepted notion, such enterprises stand a better chance of engaging in export activities. Unfortunately based on information in our database, the null hypothesis cannot be accepted because the number of the firms with this amount of start-up capital exporting at various levels is not significantly different from those with less start-up capital. More minority-owned enterprises which have been in operation for relatively few years tend to engage in exporting, compared to those which have been in existence for more years. This contradicts the evidence in the literature. For instance, Kaynak et al (1987) reports that two-thirds of the Swedish manufacturing firms had been exporting for more than five years, and 40% had been exporting for more than ten years, and Burton et al. (1987) maintain that "internationalization of firms follow a step-wise learning process". This means that firms have to be in business for some time and gradually develop the skills necessary to survive in the competitive international marketing arena. The data also show that 91 or 0.27% of the enterprises which exported between 1-24% of their sales were in operation for more than 25 years, 198 firms or 0.59%, and 1209 or 3.66% which exported between 1-24% of their sales have been in operation between 15-24 years and 14 years or less, respectively. The data also reveal that 398 or 1.2% of the firms, which exported between 25-74%, and 479 or 1.44%, which exported between 75-100%, were in operation for 14 years or less. No information is available in our data to explain why firms which have been in operation for only a few years tend to export more compared to those which have been in operation longer, and any attempt to explain will be an unwarranted speculation.

Many of the studies on exporting are based on the manufacturing enterprises. Product quality is one of the major concerns to manufacturing firms, Kaynak and Kothari (1984), Bilkey et al. (1984), Hester (1985), Kaynak et al. (1987), Burton et al. (1987), and Mahone and Choudhury (1995). Studies in which manufacturing firms were considered have considered issues ranging from the effect of firm size, product type, tenure of ownership, to age, education, and management experience of managers. We report here that more minority-owned enterprises that export are to be found in the wholesale and retail trades. However, the difference in the number of minority-owned enterprises in wholesale and retail trades that exported in 1987 was not statistically significant. Enterprises in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transportation, public utilities, construction, finance and services were grouped together to satisfy the Bureau of the Census confidentiality disclosure requirement on the publication of confidential information in which few enterprises are involved. Although the grouping of many enterprises into one category makes true comparison difficult, the data base reveals that relatively large percentage of firms that export are to be found in the wholesales and retail trades. Firms in these two industry groups exported more at the various exports levels than firms in each of the other industrial groups. This means that the minorityowned enterprises that wish to export can do so, not by producing the products themselves, but by buying from primary sources. By concentrating mostly on acquiring good-quality products wherever these can be obtained, minority exporters have the leverage in the choice of quality products and in the speed at which orders can be filled. This method of marketing strategy could also allow minority exports the flexibility in selecting among a broad range of products, that may allow them to meet the demand of many customers from time to time.

Conclusions and policy implications

The shortcoming of many of the studies done on international export is that they have failed to address the longitudinal problems of exporting, Culpan (1989). This study like many before it has failed to address the longitudinal aspects of exporting. However, with this empirical snapshot of the effect of firm-specific and owner-specific characteristics of minority-owned enterprises, this study has addressed an important dimension of minority-owned businesses, namely the role played by minority-owned enterprises with given characteristics. From this angle, we have been able to look at the role played by minority-owned firms that have been in business for some time, firms with given amount of start-up capital, firms in selected industries, and firms whose owners have prior work, management experience and, or education. The study shows that exports by minority-owned firms whose owners are either educated or have prior work experience are not significantly different from those whose owners do not have these characteristics. It also shows that minority-owned enterprises whose owners have college education account for only 47.7% of the exports in the 1-24% level. That is to say that, in spite of their knowledge and expertise, minorities with college education do not do better in international trade than their counterparts without college education.

What should be done to enable more minorityowned enterprises export much more than 25% of their sales? Why is it that only 2.7% of the businesses that exported more than 25% of their sales were owned by people with high school education or better? Can anything be done to encourage educated minority business owners to participate more in international trade? Our data may not be telling us anything more about the true effect of education on minority-owned enterprises than they tell us about the effect of firm size. What we see here is probably due to the fact that businesses owned by college educated minorities are just as small and handicapped in international trade as other minority-owned businesses. For this purpose, we can conclude that the marginal role played by minority-owned enterprises in international trade is probably not due to poor management or knowledge of international business, but because they are too small to compete in international trade. Small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises which are in wholesale and retail trades, lack the resources to plan or research for the right customers, and to finance the optimum volumes of merchandise needed to make reasonable profit. To be able to overcome the known impediments to export participation, minority-owned enterprises should seek and use counseling services provided by local Small Business Development Centers around the country. On their part, the SBDC should do more in making it possible for these enterprises to have access to subsidized loans, not only for existing enterprises, but also to new applicants who present minimum evidence of ability to make satisfactory use of such loans. The Export Trading Company Act (1982) which grants long-term exclusive right before ETC commits major resources to market development, Becker et al (1983) is more likely to be beneficial to large corporations which have resources than to small minority-owned enterprises that have very little resources to fund market development. One of the important conclusions of this study is that minority-owned enterprises, which have been in business 14 years or less, whose owners are aged between 35-54 years, do the most exporting. If these findings apply to minority-owned enterprises generally, we can say that the 35-54 age bracket serves as a threshold age for acquiring the necessary exporting experience, and that the new generation of firms can learn easily to cope with the rigorous demands of international trade in the 21 st century. The number of exporting firms with the characteristics discussed above are summarized in the appendix below. The darkened threshold characteristics are used as the reference characteristics. The proportions of firms with the given characteristics and export levels are compared to the proportions in various export levels. Twotailed Z-tests are used to determine whether the differences between the reference proportions and the proportions of interest are statistically significant. The first tests show that the proportion of firms in business operation 14 years or less, which export between 1-24% of their total sales are significantly higher than those in operation 15 years or more. The statistical significance of this test is at the 10% level. Similarly the proportion of firms exporting between 25-74% of their gross sales and owners are between 35-54 years old is significantly higher than the proportion of firms on that export level and whose owners are 34 years or younger, or 55 years and older. The proportion of exporting firms whose owners are aged 35-54 years exporting between 75100% of gross sales is also significantly higher than the proportion of firms exporting between 75-100% of sales and owners are aged 55 years or older. The statistical significance of the latter tests is at 5% level.

These results can be compared to some specific findings of earlier studies. For instance, while Burton and Schlegelmilch (1987) maintain that younger managers are more likely to engage their firms in exporting. This study shows that the threshold age for the minority-owned enterprises is between 35 and 54 years. Burton and Schlegelmilch (1987) also assert that internationalization of firms follow a step-wise learning process, but it appears that minority-owned enterprises may not need much learning time to be engaged in exporting because a higher proportion of minority-owned enterprises which have been in operation for 14 years or less tend to do more exporting than the enterprises which have been in operation longer. We provide two possible explanations for this. Firstly, because the owners of the enterprises studied have had many years of prior working experience, they might have gained some experience in international business and secondly, because more of the firms involved in exporting are in the wholesale and retail trades, meaning that they specialize in buying quality products from whichever suppliers that can serve the needs of their foreign customers, they need little time to get to determine the needs of their foreign customers. However, the limitations imposed on us by the Bureau of the Census' confidentiality disclosure restrictions did not allow us to undertake any ethnic comparisons in exporting. For that reason this paper cannot address this issue but we hope that this will be taken up in the near future, either by us or other researchers.




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[Author Affiliation]

N. Frank Ekanem Howard University

[Author Affiliation]

Charlie E. Mahone Jr Howard University

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